Cover image for The Life of Gian Lorenzo Bernini: A Translation and Critical Edition, with Introduction and Commentary, by Franco Mormando By Domenico Bernini and A critical translation with an introduction and commentary by Franco Mormando

The Life of Gian Lorenzo Bernini

A Translation and Critical Edition, with Introduction and Commentary, by Franco Mormando

Domenico Bernini, A critical translation with an introduction and commentary by Franco Mormando

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ISBN: 978-0-271-03749-3

500 pages
6" × 9"
2011

The Life of Gian Lorenzo Bernini

A Translation and Critical Edition, with Introduction and Commentary, by Franco Mormando

Domenico Bernini, A critical translation with an introduction and commentary by Franco Mormando

“This is the first English translation of Domenico Bernini’s important biography of his father and a splendid addition to the literature on the preeminent genius of the Roman Baroque. Not only does Mormando’s elegant translation make this primary source available to those who do not read Italian, but his accompanying commentary is illuminating and exhaustive, drawing as it does on nearly six hundred secondary sources. This is the book every student and admirer of Bernini has been waiting for.”

 

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  • Reviews
  • Bio
  • Table of Contents
  • Sample Chapters
  • Subjects
Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598–1680), sculptor, architect, painter, and playwright, was the most influential artist of seventeenth-century Rome and, indeed, one of the leading creative forces in European art for most of that century. He is universally recognized as one of the creators of the vastly popular Roman Baroque style, which was quickly disseminated throughout all of Europe. His influence lasted well beyond his death, and the popularity of his numerous works—fountains, statues, churches, and public squares—is today as great as it was during his own lifetime, if not more so. Domenico Bernini (1657–1723) was the artist’s youngest child. Domenico’s full-length biography of his famous father represents one of the most important and most intimate primary sources for the artist’s life and work.

In this edition, Franco Mormando presents the first critical translation in any language of the complete Italian text, together with annotated translations of two other significant but brief biographical sketches. Mormando provides a lengthy Introduction that closely examines the author and his career, his editorial agenda and critical reception, Baroque biography as a literary genre, the other extant primary sources, and the artistic vocabulary of early modern Europe, among other relevant topics. Extensive commentary accompanies and illuminates the text from a multiplicity of historical, linguistic, and cultural perspectives. This edition is, in effect, a one-volume encyclopedia on the artist’s life and work. As such, it stands alone within the immense bibliography of Bernini scholarship.

“This is the first English translation of Domenico Bernini’s important biography of his father and a splendid addition to the literature on the preeminent genius of the Roman Baroque. Not only does Mormando’s elegant translation make this primary source available to those who do not read Italian, but his accompanying commentary is illuminating and exhaustive, drawing as it does on nearly six hundred secondary sources. This is the book every student and admirer of Bernini has been waiting for.”
“With this fine volume, all students and scholars of Bernini finally have an essential new tool for seventeenth-century studies—the English translation of the biography of Bernini, which was published in 1713 by his son Domenico. This biography, which emends the better-known vita by Baldinucci, is the more trustworthy of the two with regard to facts and certainly the more informative. No library, no scholar, and no undergraduate in Baroque art can be without Franco Mormando’s translation. His introduction and notes are packed with new information and original discoveries. Three loud cheers for Penn State University Press for bringing out a book previously available only in a hard-to-obtain facsimile of the original Italian text.”
“Applying his meticulous analysis of Domenico's Life of Gianlorenzo Bernini and drawing on the state of the art in scholarship on Bernini and artistic biography, Franco Mormando not only provides us with an accurate yet highly readable translation of Bernini's biography, but also substantially contributes to our understanding of the text and the myriad issues and themes involved in it. This book is an indispensable working instrument for all those working on Bernini, artistic biography, Baroque Rome, or early modern art theory.”
“Domenico Bernini’s biography of his father, Gian Lorenzo, is a remarkably important textual document. Thanks to Franco Mormando, we now have the definitive English translation we have long been waiting for—a book that will certainly be a welcome addition to the library of any student or scholar of early modern Italian art. Mormando’s volume presents an elegant, accurate, and highly readable translation of the text—one that captures the essence and spirit of the original Italian, with respect to the nuances and subtlety of language and terminology. The volume also includes a learned and exhaustive introduction, which frames the biography both historically and critically, and an equally learned and extraordinarily helpful critical commentary, which illuminates the text in myriad ways.”
“This book immediately becomes an indispensable resource for Bernini studies.”
The Life of Gian Lorenzo Bernini translates three invaluable biographical texts on Bernini, complementing them with insightful and extensive explanatory notes. . . . [This book is an] essential [contribution] to Bernini studies, and because of [it], we know Bernini better.”
“This new critical edition, the product of 10 years of research, effectively puts the lie to much of Domenico’s hyperbolic tale of genius, virtue and piety. Crucially, Mormando, a professor of Italian at Boston College, also puts that earlier work into context and with impressive finesse explains the literary conventions and family circumstances underlying Domenico’s filial tribute. . . . [This] book will be of special interest to Bernini scholars. Yet serious art aficionados will also find it accessible, thanks less to Domenico’s florid prose than to Mormando’s helpful introductory essays and vivid commentary.”
“Franco Mormando’s translation of Bernini’s life by his son Domenico is the first in English of Domenico’s text which, until recent years, had been considered biased and neither as credible nor as useful to scholars as Baldinucci’s 1682 Life of Bernini or Chantelou’s observations in his Journal. However Mormando makes a convincing case for Domenico’s biography to be taken much more seriously, seeking to prove that a first version may have been written by him many years earlier than the publication date of 1713, so predating Baldinucci’s biography, until now thought to be the first.”

Franco Mormando is Associate Professor of Italian at Boston College.

Contents

Acknowledgments

A Note on the Commentary, Sources, Translations, Abbreviations, and Currency

Introduction: The Anatomy of Baroque Biography: Domenico Bernini’s Life of Gian Lorenzo Bernini

Domenico Bernini, The Life of Gian Lorenzo Bernini

Appendix 1: Pietro Filippo Bernini (attrib.), The Vita Brevis of Gian Lorenzo Bernini

Appendix 2: Jean Donneau de Visé, “Éloge du Cavalier Bernin,” Le Mercure Galant, Paris, January 1681

Notes

Bibliography

Index

Introduction

The Anatomy of Baroque Biography: Domenico Bernini’s Life of Gian Lorenzo Bernini

Baroque studies having come into their own in the last generation, the literature on Bernini has become so vast that it is increasingly difficult to keep a check on it. The editor of a textual source is always faced with the problem of how far to go in his commentary; he has to incorporate all new research without making his commentary too heavy and cumbersome.

—Rudolph Wittkower, 1949

1. Reading Domenico in the Twenty-first Century

This is the first English translation, unabridged, of Domenico Bernini’s biography of his famous artist-father, originally published in Rome, 1713, under the title Vita del Cavalier Gio. Lorenzo Bernino descritta da Domenico Bernino suo figlio. It is, in fact, the first translation from the Italian into any language and represents the first new edition of Domenico’s work in any form since 1713, apart from simple facsimile reprints issued in recent decades. Given the historical importance of its subject and his celebrity status today—among the general public, Bernini is, after Caravaggio, perhaps the best-known and most popular Italian Baroque artist—one might wonder why it has taken nearly three hundred years for this unique and indispensable primary source to make a more widely accessible reappearance in print. After all, Filippo Baldinucci’s Life of Bernini, first published in 1682 and written by a “foreigner” from Florence who had never even met Bernini, was reedited twice in the twentieth century and received its English translation (recently reprinted) over forty years ago. Why the neglect of a biography written by the artist’s own son?

The reasons for this seemingly strange state of affairs will be described in the pages that follow: the vicissitudes of Domenico’s Life of Gian Lorenzo Bernini is, one could say, the case of a literary “ugly duckling” transformed into a handsome swan. Also conveyed in these introductory pages is the most important background information necessary for a more profitable reading of this Baroque biography by a twenty-first-century audience. In contrast, the individual notes appended to the text will comment on the specific data and assertions encountered in Domenico’s narrative, completing, correcting, or corroborating his information by means of reliable contemporary documentation, as well as offering more recent alternative interpretations of the facts and events. Regarding those facts and events, at the beginning of chapter 1, Domenico makes what appears to be a reassuringly modern claim about historical accuracy:

It is our intention, therefore, to record in the present work the life of this illustrious personage, whom talent [virtù] alone rendered glorious and celebrated throughout the world. It is, furthermore, our intention to do so with that accuracy demanded of all those who describe events to which almost everyone still alive today has been an eyewitness. Such eyewitnesses could easily contradict an author each time he, in order to garner more admiration for his writing, embellishes the facts and departs from the truth, for truth is the sole merit of history and history is truth alone.

However, as this Introduction and subsequent notes to the text will make clear, what Domenico considers historical accuracy at times turns out to be something quite less than that. This is occasionally because of the sheer lack of information on his part, but even more frequently, because of his pious need to cast Bernini in the best light possible. No less determinant in the shaping of Domenico’s account of his father’s life is the fundamental nature of all early modern biography, especially art biography: as modern scholarship has by now amply demonstrated, a good deal of such biography in fact represents not “truth alone” but, rather, the more or less fictionalized recasting of the historical data in accordance to the dictates of literary-rhetorical convention and with recourse to an abundant supply of time-honored thematic commonplaces. Why all of this recasting and manipulation? To make the biographical narrative conform to contemporary expectations of how the life of (in this case) an artist should unfold and how that artist, especially a great one like Bernini, should think, feel, and act. As Philip Sohm reminds us, “Early modern biographies elide the boundaries between fact and fiction in order to conceptualize the category of artist and to mythologize individual artists.” In this, literary biography was similar to the sculpted portraiture of the age: not only must the sculptor capture the likeness of the sitter as he was as an individual, but the artist must also confer about the bust those qualities pertaining to the sitter’s official state in life—pope, king, prince, or prelate—whether he genuinely possessed them or not. As Bernini says in Paris about the challenge of creating his portrait of Louis XIV, “[I]n this kind of head one must bring out the qualities of a hero as well as make a good likeness.” Equally determinant of the content and tone of early modern art biography is its essential nature as a form of the rhetorical genre of panegyric: accordingly, the fundamental purpose of the artist’s vita is to praise its subject and to offer to the reader inspiring examples of exceptional human achievement.

Nonetheless, as Sohm also observes, “Historical truth can coexist with mythologized biography.” And so it does in the present Life of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, even if Domenico’s principal goal is by no means to furnish a complete, detailed account of the basic historical facts regarding his father’s life and works. The Life of Gian Lorenzo Bernini is an engaging, at times even entertaining, story that is for the most part intelligently composed and skillfully written with the goal of informing, delighting, and capturing the allegiance of the reader. Despite the mythologizing to which Bernini’s curriculum vitae and personality have been subjected by Domenico, his narrative, nonetheless, conveys much correct information, as we find confirmed by other primary sources. It is, furthermore, an extensive record of what were most likely often-repeated anecdotes and assertions—valid or otherwise—from the mouth of Gian Lorenzo himself, all or most of which no doubt were heard by the author at the family dinner table and other household gatherings. It thus represents a valuable source of information and insight for us today. Yet Domenico’s text does require a careful, discerning approach by modern readers: as in his father’s art, so too in Domenico’s biography, appearances can often be deceiving, and not all that he says can be taken at face value. Indeed, what Domenico describes as a central characteristic of his father’s theatrical-artistic talent is at times the case with his own editorial comportment, that is, it sometimes “consist[s] in making what is, in fact, artificial [finto], appear real” (Domenico, 57). Again, Domenico’s Life of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, like all Baroque biographies, is a product of a specific, now remote, age and “mentality,” constructed upon philosophical premises, literary conventions, and rhetorical mechanisms alien, if not inimical, to our own practice of the art of history and its subsidiary genre, biography. This Introduction will spell out the most important of those principles and practices, but first a word is in order about the biography of our biographer, Domenico Bernini.